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County Officials Scold Edison for Power Outage Response

At Tuesday's County Board of Supervisors meeting, county officials faulted Edison for poor communications, for not coordinating with local officials, and for not having a good enough plan in place to deal with extended power outages.

At its regular Tuesday meeting, the County Board of Supervisors summoned Southern California Edison officials to discuss public complaints about how they have responded to extended power outages resulting from last week's wind storm.

County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, who represents Altadena and other San Gabriel Valley cities, told Edison officials that "99 percent" of the phone calls his office has received about the storms have been to complain about Edison's response.

He faulted them for not coordinating with public officials, and for not coming up with a plan to go door to door to give customers information on how long their power would be out.  Veronica Gutierrez, the utility's vice president for local public affairs, told the Board the utility had done its best to distribute information through the local media, a response Antonovich took issue with.

"But the media only works if you have electricity, so that’s stupid," Antonovich told Gutierrez.

Antonovich suggested a better strategy would have been to use the Sheriff's Department and Edison officials to go door to door and inform people about outage time.  He also asked about how well the utility has drilled its employees on training for scenarios for widespread power outages, and asked about Edison's plans for an emergency.

He also pointed out that it took until Saturday for Edison to open its distribution centers for emergency supplies.

Gutierrez referred to the 419,000 power outages caused by the wind storm as "unprecedented."  She said that the utility has had trouble predicting when the outages will be over because field crews have responded to calls of a single fallen tree, and often found there to be multiple trees downed at the site.

She said the utility drills for these events and has brought in crews from as far as San Diego and Bakersfield, but that it has been difficult for them to even reach the areas where the poles are down because of all the tree debris on the streets. 

Antonovich, however, suggested that he did not see any reason why Edison crews would not have been able to reach areas with outages.

"We’re not talking about out in the wilderness, we’re talking about an urban area," Antonovich said.

Questioning from Board Supervisor Don Knabe revealed that the Edison officials were not familiar with the county's Coordinated Area Recovery Efforts (CARE) program, which the county uses in emergencies to put out public information and coordinate their response.

County CEO William Fujioka told the board his office would be preparing a report on the utility's response and presenting it later this month or in early January.

The board voted unanimously to send a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates Edison and other utilities in the state, to request that they investigate the utility's response and develop a better plan for response in a future crisis.

The Board did not ask for updated totals on how many still lacked power, and Edison did not provide any additional information on when all customers would have their power restored.

mister altadena December 06, 2011 at 11:29 PM
If you feel that offering incorrect information, conflicting ETAs of restoring power, ever changing information on how many homes are w/o power then I guess Edison did a "good job". Those workers who were out physically fixing poles and restoring power did the good work. Those in the "command center" need to review how things need to work the next time around. At the Board of Sup. mtg today, an SCE rep said they contacted the media to get the word out. That's not doing a "good job". That's doing the least they could do to make residents understand the severity of the situation. Regarding your comment about Calif controlling how much $ Edison gets, are you insinuating that SCE is underfunded and would act differently if they had more $ to work with?
Rebecca December 07, 2011 at 12:15 AM
So, when will residents and cities who don't properly maintain their trees accept their share of the responsibility? And why haven't the local cities opened at least day time centers for the residents without power - where they could get information, get warm, charge phones, etc. It's great to have a "fall guy" in the utilities, but there is more than enough blame here to go around.
JenL December 07, 2011 at 12:36 AM
I think many more people were affected than are 'responsible'(in your thinking) for this situation by not having their trees trimmed. In any case, lack of tree-trimming doesn't account for 100 MPH winds that snap concrete light poles in half, as I saw on Lake and Allen, to name only two instances. In a windstorm like this, there's virtually nothing we residents can do to keep power lines up. Unfortunately for us, there's also nothing we can do to FIX them. That's Edison's job and-here's that word again-responsbility. I'm not looking for or interested in "fall guys", but sometimes a business actually, truly, really has done a lousy job--or at least could have done a better one. This IS the case with Edison. Why does asserting this bug some people so much?
JenL December 07, 2011 at 12:38 AM
No, but our after-dark temperatures right now are about as cold as it gets in Southern California. And I assure you living/sleeping/waking to a bedroom in the low 40s is just as unpleasant as it is in the 30s.
Lori Paul December 07, 2011 at 12:55 AM
We can be respectful to those attempting to do their best in an emergency; however, its important to explore what could've been done much better. One interesting point was brought up by a former neighbor on our local listserve as follows: There seems to be a general sense of frustration about SCE's response... poor communication with customers and the apparent decision not to bring in significant levels of outside help to speed up restoration efforts. One issue that seems to have significantly slowed things down is that SCE's workers apparently will not cut tree branches (even during emergencies). When they discover an obstruction, instead of just grabbing [pruners or] a saw and removing it on the spot, they submit a request to County Public Works to come and do it, and then County has to report back to SCE when they are finished, and then SCE has to re-assign a crew to the project. That process alone apparently can add two days (or more) to otherwise conventional power restoration assignments. We noticed 2 big Asplundh tree trucks parked on Alzada Rd, with men milling about. We rolled down our car window and asked if we could help. They said there was a tree limb that needed to be cut before SCE could come work on the line, but they couldn't access the yard until the homeowner returned. Repairs were effectively dead in the water at that point. How often did this sort of delay happen? And, where were supporting emergency crews from out of SCE's territory?
Santorini December 07, 2011 at 01:19 AM
I don't own a smartphone (Indeed, I don't own a celphone). I think that SCE did a fine job, on the whole. I would have liked a better methodlogy of informing us when power would be available again, because it was difficult to tell, from the outage map, exactly which group you belonged to. Even if you could tell, they often had only guesses. OTOH, many here would have yelled about so much private information displayed on a website. No matter what SCE did, they weren't gonna win. I really didn't expect anything better - they had a LOT of crews working around the clock to fix things. I completely disagree that they "actually, truly, really has done a lousy job". Could they have done a better one? Sure. How much, in terms of resources, do you wish them to have available for these emergencies? How much overhead do you want them to maintain, during times of no stress, to have the ability to deal with this on an instant basis? Won't you complain about your rates going up to fund a capacity that might be used 1/100th of the time? How many people do you want pulled off the effort to fix things to keep you informed to the level you seem to expect? It takes TIME to do this sort of thing. I think that the BOS started the finger-pointing BEFORE it could be pointed at them. Pretty much everything they said to SCE applies equally well to them. At least, when I pay SCE, I (usually) get electrical power. When I pay the county in taxes, I (usually) get only so much hot air.
mister altadena December 07, 2011 at 01:31 AM
Pasadena opened Robinson Park/Rec Ctr on Fair Oaks over the wknd. Live Oak Park in Temple City was open for people to plug in, re-charge etc. Don't know of any other places that were available.
NICOLE December 07, 2011 at 02:04 AM
Hi Jen, to answer your question, we are in SM and were w/o power for 4.5 days..with a toddler, little heat, poor cell connectivity (as always), no landline (our fault for not having a phone backup)..so I feel your pain. I hadn't read your comment until now, it does sound like SCE needs to specifically do a better job of communicating with and supporting those folks suffering from excessively long power outages.
Ron Rosen December 07, 2011 at 02:40 AM
@Nicole Although sometimes when the power is out landlines work, this time my landline was completely dead.
Ron Rosen December 07, 2011 at 02:41 AM
Where is the hot air tonight, when we could use it?
Teddy1390 December 07, 2011 at 02:59 AM
Ive been checking the outage coverage map on sce's website since day 1. First it said that we would have power back by Friday, then changed to Sunday, and then changed again to Tuesday, and as of now still without power. I love how SCE takes us on emotional roller coaster rides. Btw Im in SM. And tonite the temp will drop to 34. I'm beginning to get used to cooking coffee on the stove :)
JohnArc December 07, 2011 at 04:12 AM
I'm a realist and I don't want my city/county/utility company to park a fleet of vehicles waiting for the next 30year disaster. I am still without power and I can understand the length of time SCE is taking to get everyone back onto the grid. This is a pretty rare and unforeseen disaster. We all sort of know the Santa Ana wind is going to be bad, but never did we imagine it's going to be this destructive. However, I don't want the reality sugar coated. By the end of the first day, SCE should have given everyone an honest evaluation and none of this "it'll be fixed by tomorrow" crap. If I am told I may have to wait 6 days before my power is restored. I would want to know a more about the process and I will plan accordingly. Instead, I live day by day hoping the next day will be the day power is restored and the last 5 days has been disappointing.
Daniel E. Harlow December 07, 2011 at 05:46 AM
Tell that to my neighbors who have no ETA on when they will get power back and see what response you get. SCE response was poor compared to AT&T who brought people in from Texas to repair the lines and get things back to normal.
Daniel E. Harlow December 07, 2011 at 05:51 AM
This is what mutual aid agreements are for and what they have in other areas, utilities in areas not impacted will send in crews to the impacted areas that way they do not have to have a fleet sitting idle during the rest of the year. SCE does not seem to have this as I have not seen any non-SCE crews working on the lines. If anything the CPUC should force all California utilities to have mutual aid agreements. Daniel
Ellen Zunino December 07, 2011 at 07:34 AM
As a botanist who knows a bit about trees, lately I've seen more and more trees trimmed to fail in the wind. The tree crews I've watched seem to have traded in their mowers and blowers for chain saws and climbing spikes the day before they climb into the trees. Too many trees are limbed up (have their side limbs and branches cut off) leaving long bare trunks and limbs with heavy leaf growth at the ends and raising the tree's center of gravity. Add to this the restricted lateral root growth of most urban/suburban parkway and yard trees and you get blocks of trees have been grown and trimmed to break apart and/or blow over. I hate seeing what could be beautiful trees turned into grotesque shapes simply because those doing the trimming can't tell you what kind of tree it is or how it grows and don't know how to trim them.
Heather Shaw December 07, 2011 at 04:05 PM
We have crews from Bakersfield and San Diego here. It sucks. We could live somewhere else and it could have been worse. This hasn't happened in 35 yrs. We all are resonsible. The cities for not coordinating better with utilities, SCE for making promises, residents for not being prepared for emergencies. We live in an area that can be ruined and without services for up to two weeks in an earthquake. I lived through Northridge with nothing, a one year old and pregnant. I had no water, power, heat-zip! Why is it SCE that is completely at fault for a huge freak of nature? I am ashamed of all the finger pointers.
Samantha December 07, 2011 at 06:41 PM
About a year ago, I was in my kitchen, t.v. running, when I heard a small explosion with snaps, crackles & booms. I rushed into the living room to see that my t.v.was no longer working. Long story short, SCE was on the street putting in a new transformer. However, no one came to my door to suggest I turn off all my electrical components. With that, my $800.00 t.v. was totally ruined & I was later offered $137.00 to replace it. No matter how hard I battled, they finally came up a few bucks. I am dying from cancer & the aggravation alone was so stressful that my family suggested I accept & get SCE out of my hair. I will never trust our utility companies again. What a shaft. FYI, I now stare at a 20" t.v., compared to my previous 35".
Samantha December 07, 2011 at 06:48 PM
P.S. With the SCE outage, I laid in bed in a darkness I have never before experienced. Additionally, my only telephone is a cell phone that had run out of power. I felt like I was living in the 18th century. Candles did nothing except burn down. My family, terribly worried about me (from long distances), could not contact me, nor I them. My outage lasted over 48 hours. My oxygen tank was shut down, I couldn't cook or heat any t.v. dinners. I was beginning to become hysterical. One of the biggest mistakes with SCE is allowing properties giant trees that are a menace to overhead lines. They should start giving out citations for removal of these dangerous trees.
Dickinson December 07, 2011 at 09:03 PM
Yes Edison and the County should have communicated better. BUT we have some responsibility here too. This could have been an earthquake!!!!! Go buy some lanterns (I have 8 so was never really in the dark) and some D batteries. My car was stuck in my garage under a tree but use your car (If you have one) to charge your cell phone. If you have cordless phones, go get a corded phone that can be plugged into the wall. Mine sits under my sofa until needed in a power outage. I could be loads more prepared so am working on that...but we need to take this as a wakeup call! In an earthquake, we could lose much more than power. No water, no banks to get cash, no open stores. Think about it!
Lawrence December 07, 2011 at 09:07 PM
I received sufficient information from the SCE. I checked their twitter account (@socaledison) which was updated hourly, and their web site which provided an estimate on when I would get power (the actual time was 2 hours earlier than the estimate). I didn't see any other city municipality or other agency that was even close to being updated as often (not even Antonovich's web site). I was without power 4 days and felt I had all the information I needed.
Daniel E. Harlow December 07, 2011 at 09:20 PM
Unfortunately not everyone uses Twitter some do not even know what it was, and since not everyone has a smart phone they can't access the Internet. So imagine no smartphone, no internet, no phone, no TV, and no Twitter. Would you felt that you were well informed by Edison? This is what happend with most of my neighbors.
jayres December 07, 2011 at 09:43 PM
How the hell is SCE supposed to know about every municipality's programs. If the county's Coordinated Area Recovery Efforts (CARE) program is worth anything, the clowns who operate it are the ones at fault for not making themselves available to SCE. CARE has one main function, you'd think they'd be sitting on a spring ready to do their jobs during rare emergency situations. The wind storm was quite an unusual occurrence, you'd think that they would show up at SCE doorstep to facilitate a community outreach plan(which should have already been in place). Instead, the county commissioner says after the fact,"Hey, did you know about this great program we have, No? Shame on you." One of the county commissioners or their staff members should have made them aware. I hate when politicians start their inquiries and investigations only after the public becomes enraged, but fail to facilitate solutions that would help abate these situations in the first place.
Angela Odom December 07, 2011 at 10:18 PM
Oh My God Samantha. I wish I had known. I wish we had some sort of list here of those who are on oxygen or have special needs. I had power packs here I could have offered to you for your oxygen. You would have had to use it for short stints but any of them would have worked. I also would have been able to charge your cell phone. I think this is the one thing I wish we had here, some source to let us know who needs what. That would have been helpful and I would have had no problem taking my chargers here and there to charge things up for folks.
Angela Odom December 07, 2011 at 10:29 PM
I think this should serve as a teaching moment for everyone. After seeing the destruction and devastation friends & family endured during the hurricanes back east and how it took days, if not weeks, for power and order to be restored to their communities, I really had no real expectation of anything being different here. Windstorm, earthquake, whatever, I believe no utility company will ever be ready to handle the load something like this bring. Any notion I had that our utility companies could handle such an "act of God" went out of the window after Katrina. It would have been nice if there were neighborhood captains around, say, at the Community Center, who could provide information on who needed what and where, what SCE is or isn't doing, and other sorts of information that would be useful for the community. Next time -- and I pray we never see the likes of anything like this again -- post something here or on Altadenablog -- all of us who have backup/portable power supplies can all meet up at the community center and make it the charging center for cell phones and laptops. If there are those in the community who have needs, like Samantha above, let someone know so someone can get over there and set her up with a backup power pack of some sort. We have to do it for each other. Don't depend on the bureaucracy when we can do it for ourselves. We'll kick their butts when it's done.
Samantha December 07, 2011 at 10:40 PM
My Dearest Angela Odom. Thank you for your sincere concern for people like us, the elderly & disabled. I do agree that the cities have some kind of list of people like myself. However, it would have to be volunteer due to city budgets. So, every time a disabled person moves into specific cities, they can call & ask to be put on the list in case of such emergencies. A lot is my fault. I took it upon myself 3 yrs ago to get rid of the land line because the charges had become astronomical; not that cell phones aren't. Also, I was caring for my bedridden sister (M.S.) & when I would run errands, she needed to get ahold of me immediately so I got both of us the cellphones (she has sinced passed away). It all worked out fine, until this recent situation. I've taken care of many family members these past years & when this happened to me (& hundreds of others), I knew that anyone of them, if alive, would have run immediately to me. I made it through a very difficult situation, maybe they were looking down on me. So, dear one, I thank you so much for your intentions, they mean everything to all of us who have no definite escape mechanisms. I now know what the people in other states (& countries) experience as we thank God it's not us; until this incident. Truly a learning experience. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Robby December 08, 2011 at 12:10 AM
I like Angela's ideas. I would register immediately to hook up with an elderly or disabled person within walking distance and be their personal pest. =) Even if I can't do anything much, maybe just keeping someone company when we're isolated like this could help. I'm always too busy to go to the ACONA meetings - it's so hard to get to ANYTHING after working all day - but maybe I'll just take my dinner to the meetings and start attending.
Peter Freeman December 08, 2011 at 12:41 AM
Edison could have gotten the word out a lot better. If not door to door, than post those portable electric signs, that you see on the freeways and streets. People want to know when they can expect power. SCE did not do their best. They had commercials running every hour, but the people had no power to turn on TV!!.... REALLY!! It was freezing cold this AM and I can only imagine the pain and suffering for the people with no heat!
Peter Freeman December 08, 2011 at 12:42 AM
32 degrees this AM!!
terry Morris December 08, 2011 at 12:59 AM
Thank you Angela! I just keep saying the same thing over and over We live in earthquake country. If we have the big earthquake everyone says is going to happen in the next 30 years, this wind storm is going to look like a cake walk. Go to the Red Cross website and print out their emergency list. Buy everything that you can. If you are strapped for cash, try craigslist or yard sales, the 99cent store. Build up as much as you can. Have some spare cash hidden that is easily accessible, at least enough to buy a couple of tanks of gas. Get some canned food at Food for Less. While you are there, pick up some gallon jugs of water. Put some first aid supplies together. Gather some spare clothing and old pair of shoes, throw that in there too. Get a hand crank radio. Battery operated lanterns are CHEAP. If you only have one, it is better than darkness. Make sure you can light your stove. Check local yard sales for an old camping stove, in case you can't use your kitchen stove. Look for a sleeping bag as well, maybe a pair of thermals. Talk to your neighbors, know who lives around you. the first thing we did when this storm hit, was to check in with our elderly neighbors to be sure they were okay and to see if they needed help. Do not be complacent, do not wait for a utility company or government agency to take care of you. They won't. Maybe the world would be a better place if they did, but they won't. Remember Katrina.
Ellen Zunino December 08, 2011 at 11:08 PM
I think we can all agree that when we castigate "Edison", we're not talking about the guys on the poles. It's the "suits" in the offices down in Rosemead who are supposed to oversee the operation of the company, the primary object of which is the transmission of those pesky little electrons into our homes and businesses. There were a lot of trees and debris to deal with but after wind events like last week's, there always are. Edison's initial damage assessments seem to have been flawed. Although I'd like to see Edison communicate more accurate information to those of us who were without power, it first has to gather more accurate information during its initial assessments and then improve communications between its people in the field and those in its offices.

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